Integration Platforms – Four Essentials…
Modern businesses demand software automation and integration to leverage the systems they utilise daily. Without some form of integration capability businesses are forced to manually bridge the link between the various systems they use on a daily basis.
This tends to lead to a number of issues which can vary from timely delays in supply, data errors which impact the production or delivery of goods and services, customer satisfaction headaches and so on. While these challenges are often recognised by senior leaders, the solutions put in place often compound the problem as they are solely designed to resolve one issue at a time.
With this patch-fix style approach, the more solutions put in the place the greater the compound problem. Couple this with the industry drive around becoming more service orientated at the systems level and the need to have insight into increasing volumes of data accurately, it’s no surprise organisations are looking for platform solutions to address these challenges and remove the siloed approach to patch-fixing each requirement.
Adopting a proven integration platform helps and facilitates a more efficient and value adding integration strategy. As a platform, it must be capable of handling the various use cases and requirements the organisation has and while these vary from one business to the next, having a core set of features which cater most is paramount to success.
Here are four must-have features of any proven systems integration solution:
You’re engaging and doing business with various parties such as suppliers and customers, interacting with internal and external systems that form part of your value chain. All of these information sources and endpoints may speak different languages and therefore require multiple different data formats.
Typically most systems require either XML or JSON support therefore look out for these features as standard, however integrations occur at different levels so it would useful to extend your feature list to include database level support such as Microsoft SQL Server and also file formats such as CSV files (Excel) and EDI formats such as EDIFACT.
The ability to transform these data types provides the flexibility you will need in order to make sure your systems communicate effectively between each other.
Data Flow Visualization
A challenge within any business is supporting the automated business processes that are implemented. One of the main reasons for adopting a platform to accomplish several integration challenges is to ensure you surface the visibility of issues as and when they occur so that resolutions can be found quickly without too much impact to the business.
To successfully do this the platform needs to be able to visualise the flow of information and the exact point at which the issue occurred.
In addition to this, the visualization of data flows between systems aids not only in support but also in modification over time. As the requirements change, the ability to go back and review how a flow handles your data means you can quickly get up to speed and make the necessary changes.
Standard Integration Tools
Fundamentally the process of connecting one or more systems together whether that is for one purpose such as moving sales orders from your E-Commerce web shop to your ERP or several, requires you to connect to both and do something with the data in the middle.
It is for this reason that when looking for an integration platform you should look at the toolset (features) the solution contains. For example, Cloud based systems utilise what are known as “API’s” to enable integration (think of these as a library of actions you can perform automatically). A platform should have the ability to connect to and use API’s, but be careful, some platforms limit which API’s you can actual use which restrict your potential adoption.
An integration platform should provide security as a minimum at four levels which are; infrastructure, platform, communication and data.
Infrastructure security depends on the location of the platform, if the solution is to be deployed on-premise within your existing IT estate then it should align its requirements to your internal policies. However, if it is Cloud based then consideration should be given to the hosting providing and associated infrastructure, such as data centre accreditation, backup, resilience and cyber security defences.
At the platform level, role-based security for integration users provides levels of control split between implementor and support users securing the who, what, when of information access.
At the communication level, the feature set should include support for secure encrypted methods such as HTTPS (Secure API calls) or SFTP/FTPS for file based encrypted transfers amongst others. Finally, at the data store level provision for encryption, obfuscation and deletion of processed data are key features to look out for. Integration platforms are designed to remove information silo’s and not create them, therefore removing data once it’s been successfully processed is a valuable feature.